Years 150 – 130 distribution of consulships for families and factions

There are some individuals towering above others in Roman politics from the last Punic War to the time of Ti. Gracchus. The most famous of them is without a doubt P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus Aemilianus (Scipio the Younger), but also Ap. Claudius Pulcher, Q. Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus and Ti. Gracchus are certainly amongst the central political players of the era. But added to those remarkable individuals the Roman politics worked through families and political factions.

While our sources are far from complete when it comes to period between 150 and 130, we can still form a picture of power balance in the leading class of Romans. Simply observing the distribution of consulships we can see which of the families were strong during this period and we also can see at least four factions of politicians.

Distribution of the consulships to families

During the 150 – 130 there were 43 consuls (at 130 a suffectus was needed). 20 of them were from single consul families during the selected years. 8 families held two consulships, one family 3 and one family 4. When we compare these figures to the distribution of consulships over period of 150 – 50 we notice that the number of consulships for single consul families is pretty much the same, about half of the consulships.

During the period of 150 – 130 families with 2-3 consuls held altogether 19 consulships which is a markedly larger portion than during 150 – 50 period, but with natural reason: father-son transition is much less probable during shorter interval. In any case at both shorter and longer period, the Roman system tends to favour family groupings and leave about half of the consulships for lesser families: 10 leading families had as many years in power as 20 lesser families. Divided equally, every second year there was a consul from one the leading families.

Calpurnius Piso 4
Cornelius Scipio 3
Cornelius Lentulus 2
Fulvius Flaccus 2
Claudius Pulcher 2
Caecilius Metellus 2
Servilius Caepio 2
Fabius Maximus 2
Hostilius Mancinus 2
Popillius Laenas 2
Quinctius Flamininus 1
Acilius Balbus 1
Marcius Censorinus 1
Manilius 1
Postumius Albinus 1
Livius Drusus 1
Mummius 1
Sulpicius Galba 1
Aurelius Cotta 1
Pompeius 1
Laelius 1
Junius Brutus 1
Aemilius Lepidus 1
Furius 1
Atilius Serranus 1
Mucius Scaevola 1
Rupilius 1
Licinius Crassus 1
Valerius Flaccus 1
Perperna 1

Political factions

The distribution of consulships to different families is one perspective to power distribution in Roman system, but equally important and interesting is distribution of them to political blocks. The Roman political system was not centered upon political parties, so while tempting, it is really misleading to talk about political parties in Roman context. Roman political blocks were mostly ad hoc -arrangements, coalitions of individuals whose interests happened to coincide or were made to coincide, temporarily. Some were just alliances united for one cause and quickly dissolved, some were more permanent, e.g. generations long alliances between families. Indeed, many belonged to number of alliances at any given moment and had to negotiate between crossing interests constantly. This was especially with older and more established families, while rising families and homini novi usually had allegiance to one patronus. However they too could switch sides when necessary or beneficial.

As the nature of political factions was so fluid and ad hoc, not too much emphasis should be given to their ideological coherence or try to seek too narrowly defined platform or program. Instead the focus should be more in the individuals and their relationships. For us there hasn’t survived a trace that these factions would even have recognised names for themselves, nevertheless the cooperation between individuals was there, so the factions did exist, but not in the same way as political parties do.

There were four distinctive long time factions recognisable for us: faction around Scipio Aemilianus, faction around Ap. Claudius Pulcher, factions of the Postumii Albini and faction of Aemilii Lepidi. We cannot place every consul into one of these groups. Of 8 consul we do not have enough information even to guess where their allegiance would lie and of 4 consul we know that they were either friends of Scipio or enemies, or in two cases both at different periods. This leaves us 31 consuls out of 43 which we can place with certain amount of trust into the four senatorial factions.

Faction of Scipio Aemilianus: 15 consulships
Faction of Ap. Claudius Pulcher: 7 consulships
Faction of Postumii Albini: 7 consulships
Faction of Aemilii Lepidi: 2 consulships
Friends of Scipio, who turned into opponents: 2 (Metellus Macedonicus was in Scipio’s faction during his consulship, Q. Pompeius wasn’t)
Enemies of Scipio, but political grouping unknown: 2


Roman political factions and their consulships 150 – 130 BCE.

The faction of Scipio Aemilianus

With 15 + 1 consulships during 20 years time this was most definitely the leading faction. However, Scipio was far from dominating the politics. He was himself consul twice and at both occasions by special exemption being made. He was allied with Metellus Macedonicus during Metellus’ consulship, but their alliance didn’t last long. In fact, Scipio was much more successful in sponsoring rising talents outside the nobilitas than keeping or building traditional alliances into other leading families. The consuls of Scipio’s faction were:

150 M´Acilius Balbus
149 M’ Manilius
147 Scipio Aemilianus himself and C. Livius Drusus
145 Q. Fabius Maximus Aemilianus
143 Q. Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus
142 L. Caecilius Metellus Calvus and Q. Fabius Maximus Servilianus
141 Cn. Servilius Caepio
140 C. Laelius and Q. Servilius Caepio
138 P. Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio
136 L. Furius Philus and Sex. Atilius Serranus
134 Scipio Aemilianus himself
132 P. Rupilius

The high years of Scipio’s faction were 143 – 140, during which it had 6 out of 8 consulships, which is a remarkable achievement in Roman politics at any republican period. Scipio’s faction also held both consulships on four years: 147, 142, 140 and 136, which also is a noteworthy accomplishment.

The faction of Ap. Claudius Pulcher

Highly ambitious Ap. Claudius Pulcher was the center of another faction and an arch-enemy of Scipio. Pulcher managed to unite a large front against Scipio and he did it with very different methods than Scipio used to built his faction. Pulcher didn’t sponsor rising talents like Scipio, but rather used traditional marriage arrangements and building of common interests. The consuls of Pulcher’s faction were:

144 Ser. Sulpicius Galba
143 Ap. Claudius Pulcher himself
135 Ser. Fulvius Flaccus
134 C. Fulvius Flaccus
133 P. Mucius Scaevola
131 P. Licinius Crassus Dives Mucianus
130 C. Claudius Pulcher (suffectus, unknown relative of cos 143)

Even while the faction of Pulcher didn’t have both consuls at any year, it had a very strong position during 135 – 130, when it held 5 out of 13 available consulships.

The faction of Postumii Albini

The Postumii Albini were an old and influental family with strong ties to Calpurnii Pisones and Hostilii Mancini families. While during the years 150 – 130 there was only one Postumius Albinus as consul, the years were the high point of Calpurnii Pisones, who held 4 consulships and Hostilii Mancini having two consulships. If Pulcher’s coalition can be seen as a typical Roman network of ambitious individuals, then the faction of Postumii Albini can be seen as traditional Roman coalition of few of the leading families supporting each other in politics. The consuls of the Postumii Albini faction were:

148 Sp. Postumius Albinus Magnus and L. Calpurnius Piso Caesonius
145 L. Hostilius Mancinus
139 Cn. Calpurnius Piso
137 C. Hostilius Mancinus
135 Q. Calpurnius Piso
133 L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi

The Postumii Albini faction had both consuls for 148 and otherwise it had consuls with quite even interval of few years between.

The faction of the Aemilii Lepidi

The last of the factions is the faction of the Aemilii Lepidi. It was the smallest and least influental of the factions during the 150 – 130. It’s consuls were 138 D. Junius Brutus Callaicus and 137 M. Aemilius Lepidus Porcina, who both were also opponents of Scipio.

The importance of factions in Roman politics

While factions certainly weren’t like idological parties of modern politics, they still were very important in Roman politics because they gave continuity of influence over longer period of time, than what could be accomplished purely within immediate family relations. It also can be argued that factions were the factor protecting the republic from monarchic aspirations of individuals, because they created diversity and ensured power balance against any single influental individual, even as influental as Scipio Aemilianus was. Ap. Claudius Pulcher, while being ambitious, charismatic and unscrupulous still was far behind Scipio in general popularity and influence, but through his faction managed to keep Scipio in bay, as did the other factions. Indeed, uniting behind Scipio as well as uniting against him was one of the major factors in Roman politics of the era. It is noteworthy that those uniting with Scipio were mostly of individuals of low influence whereas the opponents of Scipio were mainly from old aristocratic families and thus the republican machinery kept on going despite the great concentration of influence into hands of Scipio.


Five misconceptions about Romans and a bloody story

Roman culture has been and is a popular background for projecting different kind of human concepts. It’s conveniently far away in time to contain so much alien and unknown elements, yet close enough to encourage us to think we understand it because our own culture is so much alike. This has brought about interpretations of Roman culture that are very dependent on the time and culture they are made in. Most of these are pretty harmless as long as they remain isolated, opinionated, sometimes even insightful and inspiring speculations, but sometimes some of them surface as popular beliefs and can have a bad effect on the overall understanding of Roman culture.

A story of L. Postumius Albinus (cos 234) illustrates some very deep rooted popular misconceptions about republican era Roman culture. Albinus belonged into the very powerful family of Postumii Albini. Something about the status of their family can be observed from that the Albinus became a consul at the same year as his father (cos 242) became a censor. His election as consul is actually the first popular misconception that I want to address. The thing is that Albinus hadn’t been a praetor before he became a consul, so he advanced his career outside cursus honorum. The cursus was not always followed.

Roman culture and Roman state did contain some exceptionally long-lived and rigid structures, but we also must be careful in not to overestimate their importance. Cursus honorum is one of the traits of Roman system that is very consistently followed through the centuries of republic and by thousands of individuals and it is indeed one of the defining characteristics in life for countless of Romans for centuries. Still there are exceptions to the rule, as Albinus being elected as consul before being elected as praetor.

However, they are more than exceptions, they also tell that Romans were not as systematic and incapable of straining the rules as sometimes is thought. To illustrate this, we need to take a look at when Albinus became a praetor: it was at 233. That is the next year from his consulship. Usually you had to take three year interval before being elected into next post. Albinus did not even one year off, and advanced into wrong direction in cursus. In fact, in Albinus’ case we can disregard the ideal of cursus honorum. This doesn’t mean that we would have to dump the cursus honorum -concept altogether, nor does it take any importance of it away, but it shows that we need to be careful when projecting interpretations back to the past – we must not become obsessed with imposing generalisations into historical indviduals and their lives.

Albinus was a military commander throughout his career. During his consulship of 234 he fought against Ligurians. During his second consulship at 229 he commanded the land army in the first Illyrian war while his consular colleague commanded the navy. This brings us to the second popular misconception. It is the provinces. Instead of calling them provinces, we should call them commands. For the Romans the provinces were not coloured areas of map (map is by the way is the third popular misconception), but instead military commands that were given by the Senate. The commander held imperium (right of command), limits of which were described when making the appointment. It might be geographical limits, but it might be anything else too.

During the second consulship of Albinus Romans had only one geographical province, Sicilia, and the second one Corsica et Sardinia was established at 227. Instead of thinking provinces as geographical administrative units or sub-divisions of civil administration, we should think them as temporary or occupied areas administration units, that are military administration by nature. This should break the illusion of Rome as 19th or 20th century nation state obsessed by areas drawn into geographically correct maps. Romans did not have any equivalent of the geographically correct maps we have. Their maps were itinary descriptions or symbolic representations of geographical shapes.

Roman provincial administration was also much more independent from the cursus honorum than it is very often thought. The fourth popular misconception (this time not illustrated by the career of Albinus) are the titles of Roman governors of provinces. As we like to view provinces as part of permanent civil administration instead of temporary military administration, we also like to think the titles of Roman governors as tied into cursus tightly. The popular view is that after being a praetor one would become a propraetor of a province and after being a consul one becomes a proconsul of a province. This is completely wrong. One could be a proconsul before elected as a consul. The title is not tied into individual cursus honorum, but as a level of imperium needed at each command. Most important provinces (e.g. close to enemy or rich in annual taxes) were commands where a consular level imperium was needed – this was mainly decided by the size of the army the commander had in his command. In short, governor titles were military commander ranks, not continuity of individuals advancement in civil offices.

But back to Albinus, he was given after his second consulship an extension to his command in Illyria as proconsul because he commanded a 20 000 strong army. His task was to end the war and make peace after his successful campaign. Illyrian queen Teuta agreed to peace which made Illyria as a puppet state of Rome. For an unknown reason Albinus did not recieve a triumph for his victories even while his consular colleague did. After this we don’t know anything about Albinus’ life until 216.

The second Punic war started at 218 and Romans suffered huge losses at the first two years of war. One of the largest defeats was at Cannae, where Hannibal destroyed a Roman army of strength about 60 000 men. This Roman defeat was seen as an opportunity by different Roman allies to switch sides and perhaps gain something from Roman weakness. One of the tribes that declared for Hannibal was the tribe of Boii, which resided in North Italy.

The Boii were a strong tribe, though no danger to Rome alone, but in the circumstances a threat that had to be dealt with. Rome however was weakend for the defeats and had a lack of experienced military commanders. So Albinus was elected as preator, while being absent from Rome, and given a command against Boii for 216. Again it is unsual to be elected into lower magistracy after being a consul. Nevertheless, Albinus fought victoriously and was elected, again in absentia, as consul for 215.

Albinus was returning into Rome in order to assume his third consulship, when he was ambushed in a forest by the Boii. Albinus tried to escape, but was surrounded and killed. The Boii cut his head off and covered the scalp with gold. The skull was used as a drinking cup in the main temple of the Boii during sacrifices by the Boii priest and ministers of the temple.

Albinus’ death and the usage of his skull as sacrificial bowl illustrates the fifth misconception I want to address, and let me return to the thoughts of the beginning of this text while doing so. What were Albinus’ last thoughts? Did he think about his wife and children? Did he curse for the gods? Did his life and career fly past his eyes? Was he disappointed, angry? We do not know. Our sources are silent. Also how he died? In heroic battle? On his knees begging for mercy? Did he suffer long, did he have time to reflect? Again we do not know. This is why it is so easy for us to plant our own conceptions into events and individuals of the Roman history. We are tempted to depict individuals as heros or villains because with so much we don’t know it is easy to give the imagination the control. Also it is so easy to ignore the richness and variety of past cultures. Making a drinking cup out of enemy leaders skull sound definitely alien to us. If such a different culture existed in the Roman era, is not then also possible that the Roman culture itself was also in many profound ways alien and different from our own? We must be extra careful regarding the Roman culture and history because we do not know enough and parts we think we can safely guess or fill in with generalisations might not be safe at all – we must take our guard against self-evident.

Overflow of Postumii

Postumii Albini were of old patrician origin and active at Roman politics ever since the beginning of republic. As such they also were frequently at the highest positions of Roman republic.

There were couple of periods, first at around 180 and later around 150 when there was a real abundancy of Postumii Albini at the highest magistracies of the republic:

pr Sp. Postumius Albinus (44)

cos Sp. Postumius Albinus (44)

pr A. Postumius Albinus Luscus (46)

pr Sp. Postumius Albinus Paullulus (49)

cos A. Postumius Albinus Luscus (46)
pr L. Postumius Albinus (41)

cens A. Postumius Albinus Luscus (46)
cos Sp. Postumius Albinus Paullulus (49)

cos L. Postumius Albinus (41)

pr L. Postumius Albinus (42)

pr A. Postumius Albinus (31)

cos L. Postumius Albinus (42)

cos A. Postumius Albinus (31)
pr Sp. Postumius Albinus Magnus (47)

cos Sp. Postumius Albinus Magnus (47)

The situation which L. Postumius Albinus faced is a telling one. Albinus was elected as praetor for 180. His brother Albinus Luscus was consul that year. Albinus was appointed as praetor of Hispania to continue war there. His imperium at the area was reinforced in the form of proconsulship for 179 and 178 during which he scored impressive victories with Ti. Sempronius Gracchus. At 178 they both celebrated a triumph, Gracchus one day before Albinus. Gracchus was elected as consul for 177, that is at minimum 3 years interval after his praetorship. Albinus however had to wait until his brother Albinus Paullulus was elected as consul for 174 because Paullulus too had had to wait at 180, when his three year interval after praetorship ended, but the third brother Luscus was consul. Now it was Luscus’ turn to be elected as censor and Paullulus as consul for 174. This meant that Albinus’ turn to be a consul was next year 173.

The family tree of mid/late republican era Postumii Albini.

The family tree of mid/late republican era Postumii Albini.

These were the critical years when plebeian families took ever more stronger position in the highest politics in Rome. The brother of plebeian consul of 173, a Popillius Laenas, was to become consul next year making the 172 as first year with two plebeian consuls. Patricians, like Postumii, saw their numbers dwindle and their influence with it in the highest positions of the state.

The remarkable achievement of having three brothers as consuls was only matched by Claudii Pulchri (185, 184, 177) and topped by Caecili Metelli (123, 117, 115, 113) during the last 150 years of the Republic and combined with other important positions (military commanders, ambassadors, imperium holders) it tells that Postumii Albini were one of the few leading families in Rome.

The next generation continued proudly the achievements of 180’s and 170’s consul-generation. Son of Albinus Luscus became consul at 151 and a few years before and after him his relatives Albinus Magnus (cos 148) and Albinus (cos 154).

However, the time of Postumii Albini was coming to the end. Albinus Luscus’ grandsons became consuls at 110 and 99 being the last Postumii Albini to achieve consulship.